TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 2 Episode 12: "WHO YOU REALLY ARE"

There was a moment in the second half of the first season of AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D when the show, decidedly mixed up to that point, seemed to “click” all at once into what it was truly meant to be – both in terms of quality and of narrative-threads beginning to realize their full potential. Without giving it away for the (still) spoiler-averse, it involved the reveal of an Agent’s full backstory and agenda; and once it happened the series started aggressively moving and didn’t let up until the season finale.

It’s now clear that last week’s “Aftershocks,” which dropped the show whole-hog into a new status quo with an entirely new purpose in the Marvel Cinematic Universe experiment, was that moment for this season; with “Who You Really Are” playing out this new scenario with a confidence that feels more akin to a show that’s been working this angle all along… for better or for worse.

FULL SPOILERS from here on out:


In case you forgot, here’s where we are now: Mysterious-backstory’d Agent Skye (Chloe Bennett) has discovered that she is an Inhuman, a descendant of a group of prehistoric humans experimented on by Kree aliens. Though they are born and grow up as indistinguishable from “normal” people, exposure to Terrigen Crystals causes Inhumans to manifest superhuman powers, take on monstrous physical forms or both – and Skye (real name, Daisy) has come out of her experience with the power to create and control earthquakes. Her father, Calvin Zabo aka “Mr. Hyde,” has vowed to assemble an army of mischief-making Inhumans to wrest her away from the recently-rebooted S.H.I.E.L.D, which is itself divided on how to treat/”deal-with” the now-outed Inhuman population; with Agent Fitz (the only other person who knows about Skye’s new powers) seeking understanding while Agent Simmons has emerged with a surprisingly strong “kill `em all!” streak. Meanwhile, new team members Mack and Bobbi (aka “Mockingbird”) are evidently double-agents – but it’s unclear for whom.

The Inhumans, of course, are mainly being introduced (well in advance of their own movie franchise 2-3 years from now) as the MCU’s answer to the superheroes-as-disenfranchised-minority hole left by the absence of X-Men’s Mutants; but they also have a cosmic connection (via The Kree) to the THOR and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY franchises. Hence “Who You Really Are,” which finds The Agents reunited with Asgardian warrior maiden Lady Sif (Jamie Alexander) who has washed up (literally) on Earth with amnesia after a battle with a mysterious Kree mercenary who’s running around with a memory-erasing truncheon (it looks like a party-favor version on Ronan The Accuser’s Universal Weapon) trying to find what remains of the recently-reactivated Obelisks containing Terrigen Crystals.

The showy guest-star business (Sif is still the most prominent visitor from the movies to turn up outside of Nick Fury) turns out to be a bit of misdirection, as the presence of Asgardian and Kree interlopers mainly serves to hasten the reveal of Skye’s Inhuman transformation to the rest of the team. I’ll admit, I didn’t see that coming – figured for sure they’d draw that scenario out for awhile longer – so well done on that front. And it was also nice to see two superhuman fighters hanging about to generate the fight scenes that’ve become a high point of Season 2 (it’s also fun watching the character pairings and blocking work extra hard to draw attention away from how profoundly Adrian Pallicki’s Bobbi towers over Alexander’s supposed Valkyrie…)

On the other hand, all the secret-keeping among the main cast showed signs of Season 1’s bad habits slipping back into the rotation: The Bobbi/Mack double-agent story advanced (save for a post-credits reveal that Hunter was onto them, earning himself a sleeper-hold from Mack) only far enough for the pair to exchange some clumsy dialogue clarifying that whoever they’re working for it at least isn’t HYDRA (I’m still thinking S.W.O.R.D, with possible involvement from General Talbot.) I’m hoping next episode treats this secret with about as much sanctity as this one treated Skye’s – now is not the time to lose this momentum.

Fortunately, the drama of the fallout from Skye’s “outing” made up for the uneven parts otherwise: Bennett is still no Meryl Streep, but she does existential panic well; and it was satisfying to see her interplay with Ming-Na Wen’s protective/tough-love Agent May – plus there was real dramatic weight in the final image of her locking herself inside one of The Agency’s holding cells after realizing that basically everyone but Fitz, Coulson and May are now against her. Similarly, seeing good guy Sif and the Kree baddie both immediately start treating Skye as a monster (or weapon) to be contained rather than a person was a nice shortcut to establishing stakes: Even the “gods” are afraid of The Inhumans? That doesn’t bode well.

PARTING THOUGHTS:

  • It’s a minor detail, but notice how Sif’s dialogue kept reminding us that she’s interfering in the affairs of The Kree, humanity and those Obelisks on the specific orders of Odin – which, if you’ll recall the ending of THOR: THE DARK WORLD, means it’s actually Loki who’s interested in these affairs. Hm…
  • Also fun: The re-upping of Agent May’s major crush on Thor.
  • Hey, have you noticed it’s been awhile since we’ve seen or heard from The Koenigs? What’s up with that?
  • One reason I was glad to see Hunter suss out that Mack and Bobbi are up to something (and confront them about it) right quick is that the whole storyline of Bobbi wanting to bring Hunter in on whatever because they’re hooking up again just hasn’t been “connecting” for me. At all. I like all three characters, but this was a non-starter as an angle.
  • Depending on what kind of episode-spacing is going to happen, AGENTS will potentially be running an episode mere days before AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON hits theaters with at least 2-3 new episodes still to air afterwards. Who can say what that means, but I imagine HYDRA and the already-namechecked Baron Strucker will slither back into play just in time to set up their appearance in in the blockbuster sequel.

    NEXT WEEK: 
    Hoo- boy! Last week heavily implied that, if The Inhumans are the “new” Mutants, then Kyle McLachlan’s Mr. Hyde is to be our “new” Magneto. Now, next week’s “One Of Us” appears to reinforce that idea; with Hyde putting together a gang of misbehaving Inhumans (or just miscellaneous superhumans with an axe to grind?) to mix things up with S.H.I.E.LD: 

    Yup. Briefly glimpsed in the teaser: Jeff Daniel Phillips as Angar The Screamer, Drea De Matteo as Karla Faye Gideon and Geo Corvera as Ajax. I’m hoping to see The Absorbing Man back sooner than later, myself.

    Full TOMORROWLAND Trailer: Atlas, Hugged?

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    There’s a running sort-of joke/sort-of gripe in online film geek circles about Brad Bird being a secret Objectivist, mainly based on really, really cynical readings of THE INCREDIBLES (i.e. naturally-gifted superheroes versus a society that wants them to conform to averageness and a villain whose plan partly involves using technology to level the human/superhuman playing field). I’m not fully onboard with that reading of his career (THE IRON GIANT’s philosophy is slightly to the left of Captain Nemo, for one thing) but it’s interesting to consider. Ayn Rand’s peculiar mix of philosophy and proto self-esteem mythmaking has long found favor with artists, storytellers and sundry visionaries who otherwise operate well outside Objectivism’s capitalism-as-secular-religion framework, so who can say?

    In any case, the new trailer for his big Disney theme-park tentpole TOMORROWLAND will likely do nothing to quell that; as it unveils more of the film’s up to now top-secret storyline:


    Spoilers (for trailer-avoiders) after the jump…

    So yeah, the premise here really does seem to be a Disneyfication of ATLAS SHRUGGED: A young woman (a girl in her early teens, in this case) of inventive/technical disposition morose at the lack of optimism re: futurism and invention in her world (early details mentioned the dismantling of the U.S. Space Shuttle program being a plot point) seeks out a mysterious genius/hermit and learns about a secret city where all the great inventors, thinkers and scientific world-changers absconded to after getting sick of being hounded/unappreciated by the normals (some of the viral marketing has suggested the possibility that Walt Disney himself is supposed to be among or even the chief architect of this effort).

    The big difference (seemingly) is that where Rand’s “Galt’s Gulch” was basically Pathological-Narcissist Free Marketeer Summer Camp, “Tomorrowland’s” retro-futuristic aesthetic (flying cars, jetpacks, Jetsons-esque architecture) gives off more of a sense that the film’s idea is closer to “This is the world we were promised at the start of the Space Age and would’ve had if short-sightedness and small-mindedness didn’t cripple our drive to push forward.” If so? Sign me the fuck up – that kind of thing gives me literal goosebumps. Even the presence of professional premise-squanderer Damon Lindelof can’t put me off this one. I’m sold.

    Also, the presence of action/conflict scenes in Tomorrowland indicate the plot will be less like Rand’s “Hasten the economic apocalypse so we can remind the working-class who was born to be in charge” denouement and more “something went wrong”/”you have to save both worlds”/etc. Just saying – whatever the filmmaker’s “message” here, I can’t really picture George Clooney signing on for a blockbuster that ends with him and Britt Robertson ordering a quelled humanity to bow before their onmnicompetent STEMlords.

    I wonder how intentional the ever-so-slight tonal/structural resemblance to BIOSHOCK is, given the parallels. That game was also a reworking of ATLAS, with the twist being that the Galt-ish Andrew Ryan’s dream was doomed to fail and the Objectivist utopia succumbed to innevitable nightmare-ruin. TOMORROWLAND, on the other hand, looks/feels more like a non-sociopathic reworking of the premise than a deconstruction – “What if everyone involved in this project actually meant well?,” etc. If nothing else, radically-reshaping a popular but difficult work into mass-market popular entertainment is the Disney Aparatus functioning exactly as designed.

    We’ll find out when TOMORROWLAND opens on May 22nd.

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    Film Review: CHAPPIE (2015)

    NOTE I: Sorry folks, PAXEast preparations means no video review for this one – at least not right away. Hope you enjoy this text-only version, all the same.

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    CHAPPIE is an ambitious, earnestly crafted film that’s also profoundly flawed; in both respects to a degree that one will likely cancel the other depending on the individual viewer.

    It’s a work cast in bold strokes, with every thematic and aesthetic element carried to the nearest extreme: The titular robotic hero is supposed to be “childlike,” so he’s realized as literally a titanium five year-old who cowers and sobs when unable to comprehend having been lied to and cries out for his “Mommy” when in danger. In tone and texture (and in approach to the “science” in science-fiction) it’s a kids movie, but realized as an R-rated bloodbath because, well, there’s guns in the story and damned if any of them are gonna go un-shot. South African rave-rap icons Ninja and Yolandi Visser (aka “Die Antwoord”) are stunt-cast as Chappie’s human co-stars – not simply as characters like their stage personas but as “themselves,” in an alternate universe where they’re actual violent gangsters instead of an arty gangsta-rap piss-take.

    It’s kind of a mess, in other words, but there’s an energy to it – a real, beating-heart sincerity to the parts that work – that worked for me, in spite of the roughness of everything else. Your mileage will likely vary.

    SPOILERS from here on out…


    In his overwhelmingly negative review, Devin Faraci pegs post-DISTRICT 9 Neil Blomkamp as “a victim of the auteur theory,” which I’d have to call a fair assessment even as I find myself on the other side of CHAPPIE: The 70s have been over for four decades now, but we’re still overly-invested in the romantic ideal that filmmakers with technical skill and uniquely personal visions should also be free to drive their own narratives. Blomkamp is a visionary and a technical wizard, but being able to tell a story visually doesn’t mean you should also be in charge of what that story is.

    This is a filmmaker who can create breathtaking worlds, stage powerful images and communicate ideas and emotions visually with the best of them; but has faltered when asked to arrange those pieces into a cohesive storyline when not afforded the guiding hand of Peter Jackson (who shepherded DISTRICT 9 to the big screen.) Instead, Blomkamp has now made three films wherein he crafts a “narrative” around dropping his Big Ideas into a now-familiar template.

    To wit: CHAPPIE once again involves an economically-blighted future wherein an unlikely protagonist finds himself caught between multiple competing, morally-ambiguous interests vying for control of a Big Idea sci-fi technology, wherein everything is eventually sorted-out via a climactic shootout instigated by an evil-incarnate villain rearing their head. Specifically, we’re back in crime-ridden near-future Johannesberg, where policing is being handled by an almost-entirely mechanized robotic police force staffed by semi-autonomous drones called scouts.

    The scout’s creator/engineer (Dev Patel) sees them as a step toward his dream of creating actual artificial intelligence, but his boss (Sigourney Weaver) won’t let him test it on the company dime. Instead, he opts to try installing his A.I. program in the mind/body of a broken scout nicknamed Chappie (voice and motion-capture by Sharlto Copley) …shortly before they’re both kidnapped by Die Antwoord’s Ninja and Yolandi Visser (as themselves) who were looking for leverage on the police-bots but now see Chappie as potentially more useful. The engineer and the gangstas ultimately wind up in what’s basically a Mexican Standoff shared-custody arrangement of  a robot “child” whose self-aware consciousness is effectiely a blank slate – and whose battle-damage dooms “him” to a brief five days of “life.”

    That’s the main Big Idea: Robot-programming as a metaphor for parenting styles. Patel wants Chappie to learn about pacificism and explore his creative side to prove the breadth of his A.I. creation, Ninja wants to teach him to “be a man” (read: be a macho cretin, like Ninja) so he can lend his titanium muscles to heists and Visser encourages him to be himself. This is all complicated further by the presence of Hugh Jackman as a rival roboticist (an ex-soldier rather than an engineer) whose frustrated that the scouts have pulled funding away from his human-piloted Metal Gear-esque behemoth, The Moose, and if you’ve seen Blomkamp’s other two films you know where this is headed (at least until the film throws in another even  bigger sci-fi concept that might’ve been better served as a sequel or a different film) – but it’s interesting to watch it get there.

    Let’s be blunt about this: Chappie and CHAPPIE are inseparable in terms of appraisal: If you aren’t charmed by Chappie, the toddler/Terminator/puppy/martyr hybrid, you are going to find CHAPPIE the scattershot scifi movie tiresome and irritating; but if you end up finding Blomkamp’s newest better-than-human Christ-figure (recall DISTRICT 9’s nobly-suffering alien dad Christopher Johnson, another CGI/mo-cap miracle and part of a trend suggesting the director’s preference for technological creations extends all the way to moral superiority) endearing enough – if his infantilized eagerness to please and panicked wailing for “Mommy” (aka Yolandi) when under assault melt your heart rather than making you want to slap him – you’ll find yourselves wanting to excuse the flaws everywhere else.

    If CHAPPIE has a central sin, its Blomkamp’s seeming innability to not throw every single idea he has (for action scenes, for dramatic twists, for comedy, for philosophical ponderings) into every project as though he thinks each film will be the last. There’s an entire movie that could’ve been made of the ethical clash over human-piloted vs intelligent robots, Patel’s largely-unaware god complex, Ninja and Yolandi’s shared immediacy in accepting Chappie as a surrogate child but radically different approaches thereafter and even Chappie’s half-understood induction into the Jo’berg gangster lifestyle (my preview audience, it must be noted, never failed to find the robot donning bling, slashing gang signs and talking “street” hysterical); but instead they’re all fighting for space in the same movie, and dramatic subtlty is the first casualty – at one point, Patel literally calls Ninja a “philistine,” to give you an idea where we’re operating at.

    The second casualty is any sense of rhyme or reason to Jackman’s bad guy, who glowers in the background waiting for his innevitable chance to go full-tilt evil and provide opportunities for the good guys to prove their metel and pay off their respective arcs (my biggest disappointment: An early gag of Chappie imitating an old HE-MAN cartoon somehow doesn’t pay off with the robot declaring that He Has The Power while dropping an enemy with a sword.)

    With a little more room to breath his (Jackman’s) character might’ve worked, but as-presented he’s clearly been cut down to the point where he’s little more than a collection of personality traits that mark you as irredeemably evil in modern sci-fi movies: It’s not enough that he’s a neaderthal luddite who mistrust’s A.I. implicitly and a burly bully who picks on lovable-dweeb Patel at work, he’s also a churchgoing religious nut (he starts berrating Chappie as “Godless!” at one point) and a smirkingly-proud ex-military hardass – which in The Blomkampverse means he’s an amora psychopath whose preference for piloted ‘bots comes down to a gleeful fondness for ripping apart poor people with a cut-rate Metal Gear.

    Hell, in case you haven’t accepted him as evil-incarnate after all that, his first encounter with Chappie involves abducting the robot and trying to cut him into pieces in the back of a truck; after which our (child-voiceD) hero refers to him in panicked post-traumatic shrieks only as “THE BAD MAN IN THE VAN!” That’s a level of laying-it-on-thick I don’t think there’s even a working measurement for.

    But I can’t lie: I bought in. It worked for me. I’m an automatic mark for characters who’re (literally or figuratively) big loyal dogs, and as borderline-maudlin and manipulative as the proceedings gets (“The bad man in the van hurt me, Mommy! Even though I said stop!” – fucking seriously?) I was impressed how fully they film “went for it” in terms of Chappie himself. It also helps that, while Patel, Weaver and Jackman are more or less on autopilot, Die Antwoord showed up to work. The non-joke joke of the band playing themselves (wearing their own merchandise, listening to their own music) is going to be too silly for many to overcome, but “Ninja” more than adequately sells the idea that he’s something of an overgrown child himself (and that his shitty fathering-style is almost certainly being passed-along generationally); but it’s Visser who ends up being the MVP, with her non-transformation from punk waif to Chappie’s Virgin Mary-figure getting the film as close as it’s going to get to a grownup emotional core in what’s otherwise a hard-R Pixar movie.

    I get the sense that, like the similarly-earnest nonsense of JUPITER ASCENDING, we won’t really know what CHAPPIE’s effectiveness is as a film until a generation of kids who see it in spite of its rating grow up and look back on it. As much as I eventually liked CHAPPIE, broken bits and all, I feel like I’m about 20 years too old to love it – but as a kiddie-souled movie with R-rated gore, I feel like it can’t not be fated to wind up as Millennial cult-classic, and I say that with all the confidence of my own generation, currently on Decade Two of trying to convince the world (and ourselves) that THE GOONIES is a masterpiece.

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    "Welcome to Asia"

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    “Okay, here’s the pitch.”


    “I’m listening.”

    “Cool. Cool. So, it’s a movie…”

    “Good, good. That’s primarily what we make here.”

    “Nice. So, it’s a movie, but – here’s the hook: It’s SUPER racist.”

    “…racist.”

    “SUPER racist.”

    “Hm. Can you clarify, ‘super?’ Like, on a scale of zero to Nugent?”

    “Um… I guess, Nugent – but at a no-press-allowed CPAC fundraiser with those Duck guys?”

    “Ah!”

    “Yeah.”

    “So… pretty darn racist.”

    “Yes. Yes it is.”

    “Hm……….. ……. … …Well, shit – we DID just cross $470 million worldwide on ‘Bradley Cooper Headshots Brown People For Two Hours.’ You got yourself a green light!”




    So, yeah. NO ESCAPE. Apparently, somebody decided that Zombies had become too subtle a metaphor for enroaching hordes of not-quite-humanity threatening the domestic civility of “normal” Americans, and that the only way to continue siphoning money from Caucasian suburbanite existential panic was to drop the veil entirely and spin the tale of Owen Wilson’s fight to protect his postcard-perfect lily white wife and daughters from the entire population of an unidentified Southeast Asian country. Yellow Peril, much?

    The idea is that they’re recently-relocated immigrants who find themselves caught up in an escalating clash between the oppressive Police State government and a civilian uprising (it was shot in Thailand with THE COUP as a working title) which is a decent premise for an action/thriller (and for that money-shot of Wilson overhand-hurling his kid to his wife on the next roof – damn!) but holy shit. Did no one at any point think about how the scenario reads re: obvious xenophobia, dehumanization of The Other, etc? And if they did, did anybody think to calculate if the cash it’d stand to make from Sarah Palin’s America is actually worth how insulting this looks to the increasingly more-vital overseas audience – several billion of whom might come to resent the makers and stars of a film depicting them as something between fire ants and Orcs?

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    TV Recap: AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D – Season 2 Episode 11: "AFTERSHOCKS"

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    AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s stature within the Marvel Cinematic Universe is such that it’s both about what is effectively The Avengers’ unofficial support-staff and also is very much that itself: Team Coulson may have their own individual stories and arcs, but what they find themselves actually doing day to day is increasingly determined by what the MCU’s superhero-starring feature films need them to do (setting up plot points, expanding mythologies) and forbid them to do (using certain characters, revealing certain truths.) That’s got to be difficult, from a writing standpoint, but it makes for an interesting show – a “procedural” whose status quo is always changing.

    BIG SPOILERS from here on out, continue at your own discretion:

    For the first half of Season 1, that made things difficult – the series had to default into a decidedly mixed “monster of the week” routine until CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER’s release allowed them to show their cards re: the presence of a modernized HYDRA as the reigning big-bads. Season 2, on the other hand, has been allowed to play things more deliberately.

    The main storyline of its first half (Agent Skye has discovered her real identity, its not human and certain others like her are not nice people) was a treasure-hunt adventure laying the foundation for THE INHUMANS, whose movie won’t be out for a few years yet; meaning there’s likely not as much already decided this time. But now, with the basic mythos and “rules” of this new level of MCU reality set down, AGENTS’ modus-operandi has shifted once again: The series, it seems, is now tasked with establishing the very function of The Inhumans in the bigger narrative (we’ll come back to that), while the characters appear to have landed in a whole new realm of moral ambiguity.

    …but that’s getting ahead of things.

    “Aftershocks” opens in the immediate aftermath of the big Winter cliffhanger: S.H.I.E.L.D and HYDRA both followed the alien maps embedded in Coulson’s subconscious to an underground temple, where mysterious crystals emitted a gas that incinerated Agent Tripp but encased Skye and superpower-obsessed Raina in coccoons. Skye (real name: Daisy) emerged physically unchanged but with earthquake-causing powers, while Raina was transformed into a kind of human/porcupine hybrid.

    Oh! And Skye/Daisy’s father Calvin (aka “Mr. Hyde”) now wants to kill Coulson for A.) being more a father figure to Skye than him and B.) robbing him of the chance to kill HYDRA boss Daniel Whitehall in revenge for the murder of Skye’s mother.

    This stuff (read: the stuff we care about) should be the main plot, but it’s treated almost like the B-story, with Skye in quarantine (no one knows what happened to her – yet) and the rest of the team mourning the loss of Tripp. The A-story, meanwhile, is all about Coulson marshalling S.H.I.E.L.D 2.0’s first big power play: An elaborate scheme to use Whitehall’s vacancy to knock off the remainder of HYDRA’s leadership, Michael Corleone style. Its a cool setup that could easily have played out across the entire rest of the season…

    …but, instead, they pull the whole thing off in this one episode.

    No, really: S.H.I.E.L.D makes a handful of moves and the heads of HYDRA (save, of course, for the frequently name-checked Baron Von Strucker; who’s scheduled to meet The Avengers in May) are all severed in quick succession. As misdirections go, I like it (“Gotcha! We’re done with HYDRA now, it’s Inhumans time!”) but it ends up feeling a bit anticlimactic: AGENTS has by now embraced it’s own B-team stature, so it’s a bit weird to see them (apparently) able to run down and erradicate one of the big bad overriding threats of the Marvel Universe at the drop of a hat in what pretty-much everyone acknowledges is a hasty bit of retaliation by Coulson.

    But, again, this appears to be AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D’s lot in life: HYDRA has served it’s purpose in the MCU, or at least is about to (it feels like Von Strucker’s presence in AGE OF ULTRON will be strictly an appetizer before the big robot buffet) so it falls to Coulson and company to quietly move them off the field and set about their new mission of helping The Inhumans fill the mutant-sized hole in Marvel’s worldbuilding.

    Yeah, so let’s talk about that.

    The rationale for Marvel’s eagerness at turning an eternally niche-audience property like THE INHUMANS into a recognizable franchise is the worst kept secret in genre film right now: They know that any incarnation of The Marvel Universe needs the “super-powers as metaphor for oppressed/disenfranchised minorities” angle of Mutants as part of its fundamental DNA; but they also know that they aren’t getting the rights to their Mutant characters/concepts back from Fox unless Hugh Jackman boards a one-way flight to Mars next week. Solution? Fit a slightly-reimagined version of The Inhumans (genetic descendants of early humans experimented on by Kree aliens who manifest either powers, monster-like forms or both when exposed to crystalline mists) into the MCU’s “Mutant slot” and hope the machine will run just as well until the really bizarre stuff rears its head in the INHUMANS movie.

    And, at least as far as “Aftershocks” seems to imply, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D is where the “doesn’t this remind you of The X-Men?” drumbeat begins: Skye is looking to hide her mutation Inhumanity from the rest of the team (except for Fitz, who figures it out but agrees to stay mum about it) at least until she can control her powers. Simmons is so broken up about Tripp that she’s gone from wanting to discover/study mutations inhuman-powers to wanting to wipe every trace of them off the face of the Earth (“Jemma-cidal,” much?) Starting to sound familiar?

    But if there was any remaining doubt that Marvel is positioning The Inhumans as Brand-X-Men, it should be obliterated by the “C-story” involving Mr. Hyde and Raina. Hyde is excited that Skye’s post-transformation anxieties (a flashback involving Skye’s mom nurturing a recently-transformed teenage teleporter Gordon aka “The Reader” establishes this as a common issue) could be a catalyst for driving her away from Coulson and back to him. Raina is mortified that her Inhuman form has left her looking like a monster, and attempts to committ suicide by S.H.I.E.L.D hit-squad…

    …but is thwarted when a now-grown Nightcrawler Reader bamfs teleports in, calls her “beautiful” and wisks her off with promises to show her the way – Reader having previously inferred a connection a whole network of on-the-downlow Inhumans. Oh, and Hyde gets all giddy at the thought of calling up his own Brotherhood collective of mischief-making Inhuman pals to wreak havoc against S.H.I.E.L.D, so maybe we’ve got two competing factions of superhumans at play here, as well?

    So, yes, it now appears that the guesses (mine included) were right: The Inhumans are the MCU Mutants, and S.H.I.E.L.D is now (unwittingly) the tip of humanity’s incursion into their previously-hidden world. But lest you think that’s all we’re dealing with, a final scene establishes that Agents Bobbi (aka Mockingbird) and Mac are indeed double agents for… somebody, and they’re specifically looking to relieve Coulson of former director Nick Fury’s “toolbox.”

    As an episode, “Aftershocks” was uneven – the Death of HYDRA business felt rushed, and the Inhumans rollout thus far feels more interested in winking at in-the-know comics fans (“Yeah. We’re really doin’ this. This is happening.”) than selling itself to audiences. But it’s hinting at exciting ideas for the rest of the season, and maybe more. There’s an entertainment value to be had in watching an entertainment piece stride confidently up to the plate and pre-call the trajectory of it’s next home run, even if it’s not at all clear that it’s going to avoid striking out.

    PARTING THOUGHTS:

    • Note to Marvel/all-comics-adaptations in general: If you’re going to give people nicknames/codenames/etc? Use them. “Cal” is an angry scientist who gets angry and stomps the shit out of people, it’s okay to just call him “Mr. Hyde.”
    • Raina’s porcupine-woman look is way too reminisicient of NIGHTBREED’s Shuna Sassi to be unintentional, right? Especially given that NIGHTBREED is also about an underground community of “monsters” shunned by normal humanity?
    • Who are Bobbi and Mac working for (or, at least, reporting-to)? They’re probably not going to go for straight-up villains so soon after wrapping up the whole “HYDRA sleeper agents” plot, so I imagine the idea is more along the lines of Fury and Coulson not being the only people who wanted to start up a replacement for the original S.H.I.E.L.D. Shot in the dark? They’re actually Agents of S.W.O.R.D.
    • So Fitz/Simmons, previously AGENTS’ model of workplace friendship and/or adorkable star-crossed romance, are now going to be on diametrically-opposed sides of the Inhumans Issue; signaling that “Kill `em all!” v “Maybe don’t do that” is going to be an A or B choice for people in the MCU? Huh. Y’know, that’s the kind of thing you might end up fighting a CIVIL WAR over…

    NEXT WEEK: 

    “Who You Really Are” will feature the return of Jamie Alexander as We Can’t Use Chris Hemsworth Lady Sif, who is having some amnesia troubles after scrapping with an enemy who may have connections to the Skye situation. Also, it looks like maybe we won’t be waiting much longer to see how Coulson feels about Skye being an Inhuman.

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    AGENT CARTER – In Summation

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    Opting to hit up a full-series rundown now that AGENT CARTER has concluded, as opposed to just an episode breakdown like last week. 
    Spoiler city after the jump, but for up here I’ll just say that I thought the series was strong throughout and finished on the proper note. I get that some fans are annoyed because they were hoping for some kind of major Marvel character drop or more explicit MCU worldbuilding, but AGENT CARTER was very much it’s own creature and stayed on that course admirably. This was Marvel Studios’ first real push at developing what amounts to an original character outside the comics (the Peggy Carter of the books is a markedly different, less overall-important figure than the one played by Haly Atwell) so it’s important that this was overwhelmingly her story moreso than another gear in the MCU worldbuilding machine.
    More after the jump (SPOILERS)

    At this point the most introspective question in geek media is whether or not the Marvel Cinematic Universe movie/TV projects are “overrated.” That the features are overall extremely well-reviewed among action films isn’t in dispute, it’s more a matter of degrees: Is this really that above-average of a blockbuster cycle, or are fans overpraising their good points when they’re really just high on the experience of Continuity Porn finally being part of superhero-cinema?

    Speaking only for myself? I don’t necessarily think “overrated” is the problem, but there’s probably a significant level of under-criticizing. For example, a largely forgettable feature like THOR: THE DARK WORLD should probably have taken more lumps for being forgettable; but instead its average-ness passes without much scorn because, hey, those were some nice ULTRON/GUARDIANS/INFINITY building-blocks, huh? These things happen.

    On the other hand, sometimes the big continuity experiment justifies itself; namely by allowing the production of something that otherwise wouldn’t likely have seen the light of day. It’s hard to imagine even the most niche of TV networks jumping at the chance to run a scifi-tinged female-led period spy series that’s also set up as a broad (pardon the pun) metaphor for the uniquely and largely lost-to-history struggles of American women between the end of World War II and the decade-later advent of contemporary feminism; but if it’s an AVENGERS prequel? Suddenly, you’ve got a show.

    The result was a real winner. AGENT CARTER had an energy and a sense of self like nothing else currently airing, at once a throwback and forward-looking as it deftly balanced it’s meta-plot (Peggy Carter versus the postwar patriarchy) with a more straightforward espionage plot that teased at both Marvel Universe obscura and Cold War stirrings, only to subvert both expectations with a villain scheme that ultimately boiled down to revenge on America for a war crime committed against Russian allies during The Big One.

    Along the way, some cursory groundwork (maybe) got laid in terms of what will lead to the dissolution of the SSR and the rise of S.H.I.E.L.D (plus it’s built-in internal rot via a surprise last-minute appearance by Arnim Zola) and the historical background of The Avengers’ Black Widow; but in the end this was an eight hour action-adventure story that was “about” – both thematically and in basic plotting – the lives of women and the search for identity of one woman in particular… and that’s what it needed to be.

    Not that this was some kind of polemic: In the end, Peggy Carter’s journey was about overcoming her own insecurities even moreso than the sexism of her colleagues, and it’s “message to the men” boiled down to “don’t make assumptions based on gender.” In the end, AGENT CARTER made it’s most radical points just by existing – it’s hard not to notice that the seemingly mundane aspects of Peggy’s story (invisible sexism, morality-policing in so-called “safe spaces,” complex friendships among women, etc) are actually more “exotic” presences of a network series than all the balletic martial-arts, sci-fi devices and near-magical hypnotists. Ray guns and madness-gas? Been there. Carter instructing a well-meaning male colleague that his eagerness to leap to her defense is less help than hindrance? That’s fresh.

    Not that this was a one woman show: The supporting cast (largely original characters or dramatic reimaginings) was uniformly great, a who’s-who of character actors who look better in period settings than they would anywhere else. It’s not every show where outsized “Oh! That guy!” talents like James D’Arcy, Neil McDonough and the great Shea Whigham feel right at home; along with the welcome return of Dominic Cooper’s Howard Stark. And special attention must be paid to Bridget Regan, who invested the late-arriving Dottie Underwood (the proto-Black Widow) with real character.

    It remains to be seen where AGENT CARTER goes from here. The series has spawned a small but passionate fanbase, particularly on social media among women, but it wasn’t a ratings juggernaut. Could a full series (perhaps in a more forgiving timeslot like Sunday nights?) be in the offing? Another mid-season fill-in for AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D? TV movies – or maybe a feature try-out? I couldn’t guess at this point. But Marvel has created a powerful new resource here – they’d be crazy not to make more use of it.